One of the best contemporary news magazines around these days remains The Economist.  As a source for world news, economic news, politics, and everything else, it remains the most interesting, thorough and balanced source out there.  I have a goal (only partially met) of making time every week to read it so that I don’t entirely lose track of the world during my PhD.

This week they lead with a major special section on Faith and Politics.  I highly recommend reading this article, as it shines a great deal of light on the global impact of religion today. 

However I am having a problem reconciling two parts of their argument:

  • They say that previously modernity seemed to be linked to secularism but that it is now being more accurately linked with pluralism; religion doesn’t go away but all sects are available and are generally chosen as opposed to being born-into.  Pluralism further includes the option of atheism/agnosticism/etc.  I want that to be true.  I’m OK with pluralism. 
  • They also talk about the rise in religion being in what they call the “hot” religions; these are the more absolutist sects.  They specifically talk about the decline of the more tolerant sects.

I am having a hard time reconciling these two statements.  The “hot” religions are the ones that seem to want to convert or eliminate other faiths.  How is that pluralistic?  My fear for the world is that what we are seeing is a growth of intolerance that will result in more and more wars, genocides and irrational discrimination.  That is hardly pluralistic and definitely not a good thing.

The magazine then goes on to argue that at least religious wars will be “as much of popular will as of state sponsorship”.  Again, how is this good?  Seems like a mob-mentality to me.  They try to redeem that idea by saying “their fury mostly directed at apostates not competing civilizations”.  But is that true?  Aren’t most Americans considered to be apostates by most Iranian’s?  Isn’t a war between the U.S. and Afghanistan/Iraq and perhaps eventually Iran a war between competing civilizations?

in the end the article concludes that there must be a firm line between church and state, else “the new wars of religion may prove [] intractable.”  I agree, but fear that this isn’t possible.  We can draw a line between church and state, but when churchmen take an active role in the political process, presidential candidates try to sell their qualifications in part based on their own faith, and arguably the most powerful man in the world believes that God TOLD him to invade Iraq, all in the one country that DOES supposedly have a firm line between church and state, it’s hard to see how it will help.